Melanin is a substance manufactured in the body that gives skin, hair and eyes their colors. People with albinism produce little or no melanin and therefore have extremely pale skin and blonde hair. Their eyes range from very light blue to brown and because of the low pigmentation may appear red in certain lighting situations. The red appearance is caused by the reflection of light from the back of the eye. Though albinism is an inherited condition it is not necessary for either parent to have albinism. Most people are born to parents who have normal hair and eye colors but are carriers of the defective gene. One who has albinism is referred to as albino.
In addition to coloring the iris of the eye, melanin is responsible for the development of optical nerves. Thus albinos have additional eye problems like nystagmus, where the eyes rapidly move back and forth, strabismus, the inability to move the eyes in unison or to fix one's gaze, extreme light sensitivity, and severe nearsightedness or farsightedness. Many albinos are classified as legally blind and not allowed to drive though they can still see well enough to read and perform daily tasks.
Their lack of melanin makes albinos extremely sensitive to the sun so they must wear sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF) as well as a hat and protective clothing. The greatest health risk for the albino is the development of skin cancer. It is also important that they wear sunglasses with UV protection to protect their eyes.
Albinism is not curable but it is manageable. Little can be done about the lack of skin pigmentation but vision problems are correctable to some degree with regular and bi-focal eyeglasses as well as hand-held telescopes and magnifiers. Those who work on computers can use screen magnification devices. Surgery can be performed on the optical muscles to relieve the back-and-forth eye movement caused by nystagmus. Strabismus is also operable but the result is only cosmetic. It makes the condition less noticeable but does nothing to improve vision.